Kayak Disciplines – different (paddle) strokes for different folks…

One of the reasons that kayaking is such a great water sport is the sheer diversity that it offers. Many people believe that sitting in or on a plastic craft and meandering along a tranquil stretch of water is the pinnacle of ‘yaking. For some, that may be the case; but once you have mastered the basics, it needn’t stop there! There are plenty of routes you can take. Here’s a short summary of the wide range of kayak disciplines on offer.

Touring/adventure paddling

Kayaking is described by historians as one the first forms of transport that human beings developed. Had it not been for early forms of ‘yaking then certain parts of our world would possibly still be undiscovered. It is this heritage, embedded deep within our subconscious, that makes us want to jump in or on a floating craft and paddle our way to far off destinations. Who knows what we may find and what is around the next bend in the river or headland…? Packing your tent and camping gear, planning your route and making sure you have enough provisions are all exciting and only serve to heighten the anticipation of the journey. This form of paddling is one of the easiest disciplines to participate in, as the only skills required are those of being able to paddle in a straight line, being able to right your craft should it capsize and being aware and taking adequate safety precautions.

Sea kayaking

Sea kayaking is extremely similar to that of touring – the only difference is that you are doing your exploring while paddling on the open sea. This form of ‘yaking brings with it a whole host of new challenges, such as understanding tides and being able to interpret weather information to avoid ending up in trouble. Should you want to get into this part of the sport there may be an additional cost, as the equipment needed to really do justice to the art is quite specialist. With water being a moving expanse of mass, the boats are designed as long and pointy vessels that are ideal for cutting through chop and currents. This means that your physical exertion is kept to a minimum. Understanding the sea is key to getting the most out of this discipline, as well as being able to accurately ride ocean swells and navigate heavily tidal waters.

Surf kayaking

Turn up at any coastal venue that has breaking swell and chances are you will see someone out on or in their kayak. Surf kayaking exploded in popularity a few years ago due to the fact that you don’t have to learn to get to your feet like you do with conventional surfing. Having the blade in your hands also helps with getting out beyond the white water, catching waves and staying on them. This extra form of propulsion means that ‘surfing’ is so much easier and technically less demanding than doing so on a board. The only thing to keep in mind is the importance of understanding surf etiquette and trying not to become a hazard to other water users.

White water paddling/Play boating

A kayak lends itself perfectly to playing about on rivers. Rapids and weirs all provide immense amounts of fun for paddlers who are so inclined. Sit on kayaks can be used in this environment as well, although there is a limit as to just how fast and fierce a river can be paddled due to the open cockpit nature of your craft. Closed cockpit kayaks are usually favoured for play boating, which involves doing tricks and spins, as they are easy to roll and highly manoeuvrable whereas sit on kayaks are not. That’s not to say that sit ons cannot be used in whitewater environments – it may just be that you have to pick your days carefully and if you do go for a session on a moving river then invest in straps to keep you as locked into the boat as possible.

Marathon paddling

Marathon paddling is probably one of the most physically demanding sports you can do. Covering mammoth distances – for fun – may not seem like everyone’s cup of tea; nevertheless, there are large numbers of paddlers that indulge in this aspect of the sport on a regular basis. It is a fantastic way to burn calories and develop fitness, and any form of kayak can be used for this discipline.


If you are aiming for world domination or Olympic success, then a sit on kayak will probably not take you to the upper echelons of slalom and racing. But if you fancy having a crack at moderate, friendly competition by hucking yourself through control gates then by all means, a sit on ‘yak will serve the purpose. Plenty of clubs are dotted throughout the UK and the world that offer the chance for friendly competition and camaraderie with like-minded individuals.